Sometimes, in the quiet moments, Stiles could still feel the imprint of Peter's hand on his sleeve-covered wrist, his grip guiding but not forceful. It had been pressure and heat, and Stiles wondered how it might have felt against his bare skin.
If Stiles had but rolled up his sleeves beforehand, maybe he would have said yes. Maybe Peter's fangs would have torn into his flesh like daggers into an offering, and maybe Stiles would have frozen, trembling while Peter held him in place, his fingers tight and hot around Stiles' wrist.... He'd been so oddly gentle in that moment. Maybe he'd have curled his other hand around the back of Stiles' neck and pulled him close. Maybe he'd never let go.
Weeks after Peter's death, in the small hours of the night, Stiles would stay up thinking of Peter's clawed fingertips pressing against the underside of his chin like they did on the field, and his whole throat would prickle with phantom tingles.
This is all so stupid, he'd always tell himself in those moments. He had long since fixed this, and he wasn't a nine-year-old with a sick mom and a depressed father anymore. He wasn't supposed to be feeling like this again. He just wasn't.
He always hugged his dad when the opportunity arose, he practically threw himself at Scott all the time, he shoved himself into as many people's personal bubbles as he could, and it was supposed to be enough. It was enough, enough to hold his... urges, at bay, at least.
And then, fists hitting harder but slower than those of Stiles' mother, Gerard happened.
Stiles turns away from the sight of Jackson and Lydia curling into each other, and all he can think is, They'll expect a ride home. Pulling Stiles out of his thoughts, Scott grips his shoulder, accidentally pushing down on a bruise, and Stiles flinches away. He hates the way it makes Scott’s brow furrow, so he shrugs it off and searches for a way to distract him.
Crying into her dad's shoulder, Allison's preoccupied. She won't make a good distraction, but... "How's Isaac?" Stiles asks, and sure enough, Scott rushes over to Isaac in the background, leaving Stiles bereft.
He should feel grateful. He doesn't want Scott to notice what Gerard did to him, after all. He can't let Gerard have that.
Leaning awkwardly on the tail end of his Jeep, distributing his weight unevenly to keep pressure off his bruises, Stiles takes stock of everyone in the warehouse. Jackson and Lydia sit together on the floor in the headlights of Stiles's Jeep, murmuring to each other. Chris Argent brushes the sweaty hair away from Allison's face in the corner, and Scott and Isaac huddle together in the back. Derek stands alone in the middle of the warehouse, still and staring at the floor.
He looks lost, and Stiles takes a step towards him. Maybe they can be lost together.
But Derek looks up at him and sort of —sways— back, his eyes flicking downward and the corners of his mouth drawing tight. He looks as fragile and ashamed as Stiles feels.
Forget it, Stiles thinks almost viciously. He can't fix himself, let alone a werewolf with worlds of baggage. He inhales deeply, lungs betraying him with a shudder, and he walks around the back of the Jeep to the driver's side. The Argents can drive the lovebirds back home for all Stiles cares. He has better things to do, like sleep and down a bottle of painkillers and lie more to his father.
When he rounds the back of the Jeep, he freezes when something in his peripheral vision shifts. His gaze darts over, and the supposedly-dead Peter Hale melts out of the shadows like Dracula's biggest fanboy. It's almost funny, but Stiles's breath catches, because for a split second he forgets the Peter that leapt out of the rafters and sliced his claws through Jackson's flesh. For a moment he's back at the beginning, held captive in the parking garage by Peter the crazed alpha, his heart hammering with fear, ice-cold desperation a band of iron around his chest. He swallows, and Peter halts a mere foot in front of him, cocking his head to the side in examination.
Stiles steps back before he can think about it, bumping against the door of the Jeep. The force sends a fresh burst of agony jolting up his spine. This isn't fair. He'd rather go home and curl up in his blankets, not stare his old nightmares (dreams) in the face.
Peter's eyes rove over Stiles' frozen body, catching on his cheek and landing on the hollow of his throat. The twin bruises there from Gerard's thumbs pulse, and Stiles barely succeeds in hiding his wince. His heart th-thumps wildly, but he can't for the life of him move. Peter's supposed to be dead.
'Supposed to' aside, Peter stands tall and proud in front of Stiles, his expression an odd mix of troubled and calculating. He steps into Stiles's space, raising his loosely curled hand slowly, and Stiles stiffens against the Jeep, unable to press any further back. He presses his mouth shut to hide his fear, his breath shallow.
The backs of Peter's knuckles graze his cheek, unexpectedly cool and feather-light on Stiles's hot skin, and for a second those small points of contact become the center of Stiles' universe. The pain disappears in their wake, and he almost sobs in surprise and relief. He grimaces and turns his face away in humiliation.
He should pull away. He almost does, but then Peter says, "These are new." A casual, quiet observation. Stiles isn't sure if he's truly feeling Peter's body heat sinking into his own skin, or if he’s imagining it. He's not sure which is worse, because he wants to slump into it.
Peter lets his fingers slip away and draws them down Stiles' throat, leaving paths of liquid heat smoldering in Stiles' skin like a healing balm. The moment seems to last forever, and finally, when Peter reaches the base of Stiles' throat, he traces the ring of fingerprints Gerard left. Pleasant tingles radiate from each point of contact, dulling the pain, and it makes Stiles want to close his eyes and lean in. It's only the fact that this is Peter that forces him to keep his body in check.
"What did he do to you?" Peter murmurs, his breath whisper-soft against Stiles' jaw. Stiles' eyelids grow heavy, but Peter reaches an ugly, cracked bruise where one of Gerard's fingernails broke the skin, and Stiles flinches away. Instead of mocking him, Peter stills, and a rumbling growl works its way out of his throat. It vibrates through Stiles' body. "I'll finish him off, if you like," Peter says.
The words, too intimate and intense, jar Stiles, and he jerks into motion, stepping out of Peter's space and yanking the Jeep's driver door open before he can stop himself. This doesn't matter, he tells himself, folding his lanky legs into the car. Peter's alive. This doesn't matter. And I'm fine, he tells himself as he peels out of the warehouse. Totally fine, he silently begs, eyes darting to the rearview mirror and meeting Peter's considering gaze. It's all going to be fine.
"I swear it was a deer," Stiles says.
"Are you kidding me?" his dad asks, jerking his hands at the Jeep. "It looks like you drove through a damn wall."
Ha. Hahahaha. "It was a buck. Like, the size of a moose," Stiles rambles. "You ever see one of those things? Canada has it rough, Dad. Moose are Death. "
His dad is having none of it. He clenches his fists together, shoulders drawn tight and shaking. "I don't care if you hit the damn Devil, Stiles. We can’t afford this.” He leans forward, brow heavy with anger. Stiles' breath catches, his stomach rolling as he shoves down the urge to put distance between them. His father won't hurt him. He never really has.
"I know," Stiles says to appease his dad. He ruffles his hair, like if he shakes his brain up enough, it'll come up with a miracle and fix everything. "I, look, I'll get a summer job to help pay for it." He catches his dad's skeptical look. "It'll be good, you know, give me something to do."
His dad looks contemplative. "I had a job your age. You're right, it could do you some good." And maybe that comment stings a little, but after everything Stiles has put his dad through, Stiles understands the reasoning behind it. His dad eyes the Jeep, nodding to himself.
"Yeah," says Stiles. "I'll start looking today."
And that's that.
A few days pass, and Stiles nudges Scott's thigh with his foot. "You okay?"
Scott glances over. "Yeah, you?"
Stiles wishes he could remember when exactly they stopped telling each other the truth. Maybe it had something to do with Scott lying the whole damn time about his plan regarding Derek and Gerard's medication.
"You sure?" Scott asks.
Stiles grinds his teeth together. "Yeah."
Stiles pulls his foot away. "I'm fine, Scott," he snaps, voice brooking no argument. He feels wrong, like his skin's too tight. He has to change the subject. "Any sign of Gerard yet?"
Scott shakes his head, and Stiles wants to punch something.
Summer advances upon them, and Stiles passes by missing person flyers with Peter's face on them on his way to his new job at the bookstore. The picture the hospital chose (because it definitely isn't Derek posting the flyers) must have been pre-fire, maybe from a driver's license. Peter looks so young in it, and God, he's smiling. Stiles can't decide if he finds the flyers funny or sad.
(The bruises heal.)
Things are quiet for the first time in nearly a year. Erica and Boyd return from their wild goose chase quiet and glued to each other's sides. Jackson visits England, and then he comes back. Allison wallows in angst and Lydia drags her out of it. Scott and Isaac wolf out and wrestle. No monsters descend upon Beacon Hills. There's nothing wrong, no perceivable danger lurking in the shadows, but Stiles still feels... prickly. On edge. Like something should be wrong. Like maybe something already is.
It happens at his new job at the bookstore. His manager, a sweet old lady with a flare for the dramatic, touches his forearm to get his attention, and Stiles jumps away, his skin tingling where her fingers brushed it.
"Oh!" She titters, titters like that's a thing that people actually do, and brings her hand to her chest. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"No, no, it's fine," Stiles says.
The tingling hasn't lessened at all.
There is something wrong, after all. It's him.
When he gets home from work, his dad's long gone, and Stiles tries not to think he's picking up all these late shifts purposely to avoid him. His dad wouldn't do that. Not again. Probably. Or, he wouldn't have done it a year ago. But now, after everything....
It doesn't matter. There's nothing Stiles can do about it.
When he opens his bedroom door, fully intent on folding himself into a burrito blanket, he finds Peter sitting at his desk in front of his laptop, attempting to type in his password. Stiles almost has a heart attack. "What the hell are you doing here?" He moves forward, planning to wrench the laptop away from Peter, but he stops in the middle of the room, too wary of being slammed up against the wall for being too grabby.
Without so much as a hello, Peter spins the chair around to face Stiles like the Disney villain he probably secretly strives to be. It's odd, though. His clothes hang off him too loosely, and his cheekbones stand out too starkly in his face, making him look gaunt, almost haggard. Stiles saves these thoughts to think about later because Peter gesturing at the computer remains a more pressing matter. "Log in for me," Peter says.
Stiles narrows his eyes. "Why?"
"I want to confirm something with you." While Stiles tries to puzzle out exactly what that means, Peter looks him up and down, gaze lascivious. It kicks in Stiles' fight-or-flight response, and he stills, body strung tight, eyes on Peter.
Peter holds his hand up. "Don't worry, I come in peace," he says dryly, a corner of his lips curling upward, and where this new sense of humor came from Stiles wants to know.
"Fine," Stiles says, lips pressing into a thin line. He keeps an eye on Peter while he pads closer, just in case. Peter watches him avidly. He seems amused by this.
Stiles steps into Peter's space, his skin prickling with proximity. If Peter rolls the chair closer to the desk, his legs will hit Stiles'. If he wants, he could lean forward and reel Stiles in. He doesn't, though, and Stiles grabs the laptop and speed-walks to the edge of his bed.
Peter makes a sound like a snort, and Stiles pretends not to hear it as he types in his password, safe where Peter can't see it. (It's not like there's anything that incriminating on his laptop, but still, Stiles doesn't want Peter's dirty paws on it.)
"Okay," Stiles says once his desktop pops up. "Now what?"
Peter leans back in the chair and crosses his right foot over his left knee in the universal douche pose (a pose which Stiles, too, often uses, which is why he recognizes it for what it is). "Google Gerard Argent."
Stiles stares at Peter, heart beating a little faster. Peter stares back, nonplussed.
So Stiles looks down at his computer, swallowing, and googles "Gerard Argent Beacon Hills". The ensuing headlines make him freeze: “66 Year Old Man Dead in BH Forest Preserve.” “Body of Former Argent Weapons CEO Found — Homicide?” “Children Find Retiree's Body With Throat ‘Ripped Out’”.
Stiles stares blankly at the screen, thoughts crashing to a halt. His chest tightens. He has to remind himself to breathe. His ensuing shuddering inhale echoes loud in the silence, and his body loosens as he exhales. He feels light-headed, and when he moves to stroke his hand down his face, he feels clumsy, like his limb's weightless and he has to focus to the movement. He can't look away from the screen, can't blink.
He wonders if he'll shake apart.
Peter closes the laptop, having apparently approached at some point. He takes it from Stiles and sets it back down on the desk, and Stiles watches him, feeling oddly bereft without the weight of the computer on his lap. Peter's movements are easy and slow. He doesn't want to startle Stiles, it seems, and that confuses Stiles even more.
"Why?" he croaks when Peter turns back and looms over him.
Peter looks down at him like he's something fragile and precious, and Stiles finds himself unable to tear his eyes away because Peter's hand is moving up and up—
“Because of this,” Peter says. He touches the side of Stiles' neck and glides his fingers over the path of freshly healed bruises. (Stiles will be feeling phantom sensations there for weeks.) "And this," he murmurs, cupping Stiles' face and tracing his thumb over his cheek. And Stiles wants Peter to keep holding him so very badly, wants to relax into his hold, but he won't. He can't.
Peter's eyes, so calculating and hard, lock on his, and Stiles curses himself the longer he looks because he should feel scared. He should feel terrified and wary and suspicious. And he does, he does, but not for the right reasons. And he knows he should say something. Any other time Stiles would have some witty retort at the ready, but now, with Peter's hand warming him like the sun on his face, Stiles’ thoughts won’t come. They’re like sludge at the bottom of a lake.
He can't wrench his focus away from the ring and pinkie fingers curled around his jaw, the middle finger tucked behind his ear, the index finger resting on his temple. The thumb petting his cheek, the palm brushing the corner of his lips. Peter's eyes on him, relentless.
"Stiles," Peter purrs, and he rests his other hand on Stiles' shoulder, only tightening his grip when Stiles twitches backward in surprise. “Don’t I get a thank you?"
Stiles' mouth falls open, and Peter grins, shark-like, and his knee presses between Stiles' legs. "There are so many ways you could show your gratitude," he says, and Stiles' breath catches once more, his libido deciding to join the party. He hangs in the moment like a pendulum, the seconds ticking by like hours, Peter's eyes far too intent.
And then Peter's grin turns into a smirk, and he steps away, leaving Stiles cold and raw, the tingling feeling left by Peter more taunting than comforting. Stiles wants Peter's touch back, and he loathes himself for it.
The smirk falls from Peter's face. "I need your help, Stiles." His voice lowers. "I want my life back, and you're going to help me get it."
Stiles' world floods back, and he finds himself angry. "Why? Because you killed an old man who was mean to me? Please,” he scoffs. “I didn't ask you to do that."
Peter crosses his arms. "That was a gift, Stiles, not a favor in exchange for anything. No," he smiles down at Stiles and brandishes his claws. "I'm threatening you now."
"What—" Stiles' mouth falls open, and his muscles jump and twitch with outrage. "What are you gonna do, huh? Insult me?” He scoffs. “You freaked out because someone bruised me."
Before he knows it, Peter's wrapped a hot hand around Stiles’ throat just beneath his jaw, grip firm but not (yet) painful. Peter clucks when Stiles' hands fly to his wrist, his gaze unamused. The sound makes Stiles stop trying to pull Peter's hand away, but Stiles doesn't let go of Peter’s wrist, either, not even when Peter raises him up, forcing him to stand. Peter meets Stiles’ alarmed gaze with his own cold and assessing one, and he tightens his fingers around the sides of Stiles’ throat, thumb and forefinger pressing into the soft flesh beneath Stiles' jaw, making Stiles' heartbeat pulse against them. Stiles’ breath whines in his throat, and his world narrows and intensifies. He holds on tight to Peter.
When Stiles' vision blurs, Peter says, "I don't have to leave bruises, Stiles."
The words take a moment to register in Stiles’ mind through the headiness emanating from Peter's hand, and Stiles remembers all the horror stories of what people can do to each other without leaving bruises.
"Whoah, no, no, no, no—" He claws at Peter's hand and tries to yank himself away— it works only because Peter lets go unexpectedly, and Stiles stumbles to the side with the momentum of it, tripping over nothing and falling flat on his ass.
Peter stares down at Stiles like he's a particularly interesting specimen and lifts an eyebrow. "That's not what I meant," he says.
Stiles splutters as he gets to his feet. "Then what the fuck did you mean, Creepy McCreepster? 'I don't have to leave bruises, Stiles.' Like, what in the ever loving fuck?" Peter steps closer, mouth opening, and Stiles steps back. "Woah, take a step back." He waves his arms around himself. "Respect the bubble."
Peter sighs and holds his hands up in submission. "Fine. I'll skip the fun—"
Peter ignores him. "—and spell this out for you. Help me get my identity back, and I won't hurt your loved ones."
Stiles stares at him, silently wishing the laser beams shooting out of his eyes were less metaphorical. "Fuck you," he says.
Peter grins. "Is that consent?"
Stiles' mouth drops open. "Wha —no!" He looks around, face crumpling. "I need an adult."
Peter's grin widens, of course. "All in good time."
Stiles is so fucking done. "I'll get your identity back by dropping your dead body off at the morgue with a sticky note pasted to your cold, lifeless forehead that reads Peter Hale: pervert extraordinaire. Cremate ASAP.”
The grin falls from Peter's face, and in the space of a second he grabs Stiles by the nape of his neck, fingers slipping under the collar of Stiles' shirt, and hauls him out of the room. "Let's put your creativity to better use," he rumbles in Stiles' ear, and Stiles stays quiet, absolutely not freaking out about the warm hand turning his spine into mush.
Peter hauls him down the stairs and opens the front door, then stops before they step outside, looking sideways at Stiles. "What? No witty retort? In my admittedly limited experience, it's not often you keep your mouth shut." The corners of his eyes crinkle, and his hand is still hot on the back of Stiles' neck. It's like a goddamn heat pack.
Stiles' blush is so strong Peter can probably feel it under his palm. "Uh," Stiles says brilliantly. "I'm not here to be your entertainment, Peter," he says, and it's so weak. (So weak) Stiles is, frankly, embarrassed, an emotion he doesn't experience that frequently.
Peter, the bastard, lifts an eyebrow and smirks in amusement, and Stiles' cheeks heat up even more in response. "Oh, but you are entertaining, Stiles," he says, voice smooth like liquid metal. He gives Stiles' neck a light squeeze that sends heat rushing up Stiles' spine and smiles at the ensuing catch in Stiles' breath. Peter tilts his head just so. "For instance, your heartbeat's a delight."
Stiles' heartbeat is a delight.
Stiles' heartbeat is a delight.
Stiles' heartbeat is a delight.
Ha. Ha ha. Hahaha. Well at least Peter likes Stiles’ heart beating rather than squashed dead in the palm of his hand. Because Stiles can see that happening — Peter squashing hearts. That's something he would do. He'd totally be into the creepy slick sound it'd make.
Peter takes his hand off Stiles' neck and it's like the floor's been swept out from under him, like his whole center of gravity's gone on vacation in Rio. Stiles tenses as he tries not to sway from the loss of it. Thankfully, before he can react and show any of this, before Peter sees, Peter pushes him out the door.
Peter makes Stiles drive the Jeep, which totally isn't fair. If Stiles is going to be abducted, he shouldn't have to do all the legwork.
The moment Stiles' hands relax around the wheel, Peter asks,"How's the bookstore?" and Stiles tenses again.
"...Are you stalking me?"
Peter scoffs. "I have better things to do." Not buying it, Stiles side-eyes him, so Peter rolls his eyes and continues, "You smell like books and Niyati's coffee. It wasn't a hard leap of logic to make."
Niyati's Aroma Cafe has been downtown Beacon Hills' one and only caffeine stop since the beginning of time. Not even Starbucks has dared to infringe on her territory, and it wouldn't surprise Stiles at all to find out she's a witch or some such. He should 'jokingly' ask her sometime just to see how she reacts. He goes there often enough now since she's right across the street from his work that he could get away with it.
"Fine," Stiles says, begrudgingly grateful that Peter isn't actually a stalker.
"The bookstore is fine?"
The Jeep needs an eject button.
"Yes, the bookstore is fine."
"Oh, good. Does Niyati still make her chocolate tarts?"
What the fuck?
For the rest of the ride to the Hale house, Peter asks inane questions about the goings-on of the town, and Stiles wonders if he's been transported to an alternate dimension. Peter's acting well-behaved and normal, and that's just wrong.
He's almost relieved when they pull up to Hale house, because there's a silver Civic in the driveway and Peter goes right up to it and pulls a duffle bag out of the trunk, and yes, it's almost a relief that Peter's visibly up to something. Almost. Stiles hopes Peter isn't actually kidnapping him. If he is, Stiles is gonna leave him to rot sitting in a circle of mountain ash.
From the driver's seat, Stiles considers the distance between him and Peter. It's only a few feet, but maybe if Stiles acts as un-suspicious as possible...,. He eases the Jeep into reverse, foot on the accelerator tensing—
Peter straightens and gives him a look, and Stiles sinks into his chair.
"This is the dumbest plan ever," Stiles tells Peter.
"And what do you suggest I do? Walk into the hospital and pretend to have amnesia?"
"I don't know! Anything but rip off the Walking Dead."
"I thought you said I am the walking dead."
Stiles observes the creepy setup Peter's created that somehow manages to make the Argents' tunnel of doom seem even creepier. Peter's commandeered a workbench complete with manacles ("Calm down, Stiles. I would never buy those. The ones I prefer are much more enjoyable."), and he's laid out an assortment of used IV bags around on top of it, complete with IV stand and even a bloodied needle. The blood's long dry, and a light layer of dust covers it all. Stiles cocks an eyebrow at Peter. "How long have you been planning this?"
Peter gestures at himself. "Long enough to look the part."
Stiles takes in the state of Peter's body more thoroughly than before. He'd noticed the gauntness, but now that he's actually looking-looking, Peter appears downright emaciated. "Huh. You do look like the walking dead," Stiles says.
Peter, being Peter, leans in and leers. "Be careful I don't get too hungry." And maybe Stiles should inch away, but the tunnels make him so uneasy that hovering by Peter's side still seems safer than wandering around.
Once Peter's ensured his little torture exhibit's intact, he hauls Stiles off to an old (nonsupernatural) hunter's lean-to near a lake some miles into the Hale property. It’s a well-made structure, with three log walls, a roof and an elevated wooden floor about the size of a king bed. Two squirrel skins hang from a fishing line strung up under the edge of the roof, and a raggedy pair of moth-eaten clothes sits in the corner. Peter’s built a campfire several feet away from the lean-to, its coals long dead. Stiles stares at Peter. “For such a shitty plan, you’ve put way too much effort into this.”
Peter picks a pair of cargo shorts out of the clothing pile and shakes it out, looking over it with distaste. “Stiles,” he purrs, and oh, Stiles is actually annoying him now, isn’t he? “No human could possibly heal from the burns I had, and the most expensive plastic surgery could never do so fine a job as this.” He gestures at his face. “If I’m going to be a walk-in miracle, everyone’s attention will be on me. But if I divert the attention elsewhere…” He waves his hand, as if to say all the pieces will magically fall into place, which, really, is just stupid.
“Kate was a hunter, not a mad scientist. The police won’t buy it.”
“I don’t need the police to believe me,” Peter says as he shucks off his pants like the woodsman he’s trying so hard to be, and since Stiles has been in the boys’ lockerr room before and since a half-starved person, even if he is Peter Hale, does not appear physically attractive, Stiles is totally fine with this. Pantless Peter is A-okay. Totally fine. (Stiles resolutely keeps his eyes on Peter’s face.) “I just need them not to suspect me of a crime," Peter says, apparently oblivious to Stiles’ inner turmoil. He pulls on the shorts, upper lip ticcing upward with disgust. “And pinning this on Kate should garner more sympathy for me and keep the rumor mill focused on her part in this rather than my own.”
Stiles has an objection at the ready, but before he can say anything, Peter strips off his shirt, and Stiles gawks. Peter’s skinny. He already knew this, but Jesus— “Oh my God, you really have been starving yourself.” Stiles’ stomach twists out of reluctant sympathy and horror. This is just — holy shit. Suddenly Stiles wants to feed the guy.
Peter shrugs on a t-shirt smeared with dirt, then ruffles his hair. There’s no hair gel in it today, and it falls limp, shiny with grease. It's a little gross, and completely pathetic. "And here I thought you were done ruining the werewolf mystique."
"Shut up, Stiles," Peter mutters, and in a flash he's got his hand on Stiles' neck and he's hauling him towards the Jeep.
Skinny he may be, but Peter's hand is still hot on Stiles' skin and Stiles has kind of had enough touching for the day, please and thanks. It felt nice before, like a balm on the mind, but now Stiles feels like his skin might melt, might slide off and it's too, too much —"What am I? Your crutch?" Stiles snaps, trying to shrug out of Peter's hold.
Peter's fingers dig into his skin and push him along, and it's wrongwrongwrong. "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I get to eat a full meal," he growls.
"Great, great, now get off me, I'm going." There's an irritating edge of panic to Stiles' voice even as he squirms and ducks, and he hates himself for it. He wants to peel off his skin.
Peter lets him go, stopping, looking at Stiles like he wants to dissect him. "Is something wrong?" he asks a little too smoothly, and Stiles wishes he hadn't said anything.
He grinds his teeth together. He can't say no because Peter will know he's lying and then Stiles will be fucked. So, "Yeah," Stiles says, "you keep dragging me around like I'm gonna run away, and it's getting pretty damn annoying, alright?" He crosses his arms.
Peter cants his head to the side. "That's not it," he murmurs, still analytical.
Stiles' breath shortens. "'It is none of your damn business."
Peter's eyes dart across Stiles' face. "I won't hurt you, Stiles," he says without any of his usual slipperiness, and all the agitation dissipates from Stiles' body, leaving him exhausted and aching for his bed and blankets.
Stiles runs a hand through his growing hair, now an inch long. "That's—" not the problem— "Okay, great," he says slowly, like a sigh. "Can we go now?"
Peter nods, hand flexing at his side, but he doesn't reach out.
It works. After calling the police about finding a missing person, Stiles "coaxes" a "reluctant" Peter into the hospital and sends all the staff into a tizzy. Peter acts like a traumatized mute and lets Stiles ramble on about the "state" he "found the poor guy in", and when Stiles' dad finally shows up, Peter’s mumbling about escape tunnels.
The doctors and a couple nurses insist on examining Peter's scarless face, but he "freaks out" like he's about to run away, and Stiles' dad, Stiles' dad, takes sympathy on him and fends them off just in time for a very confused, long-suffering Derek to show up and "take care of him." With a few carefully dropped hints from both Peter and Stiles, Peter's relatively in the clear. The story is, Infamous Serial Killer Kate Argent kidnapped him from the hospital and experimented on him horrifically, thus explaining his magically fixed face, and upon her death, Peter escaped into the woods and lived like a caveman.
(It's all very tragic.)
Despite being the apparent hero of the day, Stiles still gets in trouble for investigating a crime scene ("Oh, come on, Dad! I just wanted to know how she did it."), and he marvels at his town's gullibility. It's a little funny, a little sad, a little disturbing — it's Beacon Hills, and he doesn't know why he's surprised.
During the whole fiasco, Peter doesn't touch him once, and Stiles finds himself relieved and even grateful, until he goes to bed that night. He stares at the ceiling for hours, replaying each touch, each brush of skin over and over again. Remembering how he shrugged Peter off with such agitation sends him curling in on himself and digging his fingers into his biceps. He shouldn't have reacted like that.
He's small and alone, and blankets can only do so much good. His eyes itch, but he's too tired to cry. Self-pity's a waste of energy, and he wishes his brain would just shut the hell up.
Peter's jumpstarted Stiles' stupid little craving. Stiles hates him for it.
Nightmares of Gerard wake Stiles up at night. Remembering that Peter killed him lets him fall back asleep.
Derek calls a "pack meeting". They've never had one of those before, and last time Stiles checked he wasn't part of any pack, but if there's some supernatural threat looming over good old BH again, Stiles needs to know.
Unfortunately he's the first to arrive, and Isaac's picking up the pizza (since when do they order pizza?), so it's just him and Derek, who decides to make it really awkward.
"So," says Derek, glancing around the room like he’s looking for an escape route.
Stiles doesn't know what the hell is going on with Derek, so he just rolls his eyes, takes a seat on the end of the couch, and pulls out his smartphone. "So," he repeats after Derek, most of his attention already on his newly opened puzzle app.
Derek takes a reluctant seat on the opposite end of the couch, and asks, sounding like he'd rather be declawing himself, "How's your new job?"
Stiles' gaze snaps upward. "Did you smell that on me?"
"No," Derek says peevishly. "Peter mentioned it."
Stiles squints at him. "You and Peter were talking about me?" Yikes.
"No, Peter was..." Derek shrugs helplessly, "being Peter." He glances away, and oh, man, he is hiding something.
"Come on, what were you really talking about?"
"Nothing," Derek grumbles, and Stiles wants to know.
As if in answer to his prayers, the man in question walks through the front door. Peter walks right past the back of the couch all the way over to Derek, saying as he goes, "I was suggesting he socialize, Stiles. Maybe even visit you." He leans on the arm of the couch besides Derek and leers at Stiles. "I know I might."
Stiles glares, which makes Peter's predatory grin widen and Derek make a face.
"Peter," Derek warns.
"Well, we can't both be hermits, Derek," Peter says. Before he takes a seat in one of the two arm chairs, he ruffles Derek's hair, and Stiles watches with interest as Derek hunches inward, away from the touch. "How's your little pack bonding session going?" Peter asks, drumming his fingers against the one of the arms of the chair. His clothes fit better now.
"Pack bonding session?" Stiles asks while Derek groans.
Peter, of course, is delighted. "Oh, were you too shy to tell him?" he asks Derek.
"No, it's not—" Derek starts before turning to Stiles. "It's a planning session. We need to be prepared for anything that might come our way next." If Stiles didn't know Derek, he'd hear the exasperated tone and leave it at that, but since he does know Derek, he can hear the underlying desperation in his voice, like he's terrified Stiles will shoot him down. Jesus, this dude's a mess, Stiles thinks. He's worse than Stiles, and that's saying something.
So, "Yeah, alright," says Stiles. "Sounds good."
Erica explodes into the room. "Stiles!" She leaps onto the couch beside him, thigh to thigh, and practically puts him in a headlock as she hugs him from the side. "I haven't seen you in ages," she croons, and it takes Stiles a moment to register her words, frozen as he is. Her arm's hot around his neck, her cheek grazing his, and he feels like a computer flashing a red "Error! Error!" sign. He's usually the one throwing himself at people, so this is new and terrifying.
Don’t move, he thinks to himself, and she won't stop. So he holds as still as possible and laughs. "Yeah, I missed you! How've you been?"
Boyd follows Erica in at a more sedate pace, lightly punching Stiles in the shoulder before he sits down between Erica and a petrified Derek, squishing Erica even further into Stiles. Then, as if to freak out Stiles even more, Boyd throws an arm over Erica's shoulder and the tips of his fingers brush Stiles' shoulder and—
And Stiles just missed everything Erica said. He nods dumbly, desperately hoping no one noticed his scattered thoughts and possibly reddening cheeks.
"Wait, really?" Erica asks him.
Stiles' mouth falls open, and he gestures, accidentally pressing his shoulder harder into Erica's. "Sorry, can you repeat that?"
Erica grins like a shark. "Nice try, no take backs. I'm totally doing your hair once it's long enough."
Peter snorts, and Stiles glares at him. The knowing glance he receives in turn makes him want to punch the guy. This is his fault, Stiles just knows it.
But, aside from Peter, and aside from Stiles' little freakout, Erica is back and seemingly none the worse-for-wear. She's a little too happy, a little too forced in her enthusiasm, and Stiles recognizes a front when he sees it. Still, she's alive and not currently being electrocuted by a creepy old dude (same with Boyd, but he's as stoic as ever, so who knows what's going on in his head), so Stiles counts this as a Good Thing. And Good Things deserve to be rewarded. "Yeah, alright, mess with my hair," he says in false resignation. "No mohawks, though."
Erica's Cheshire cat grin is worth it.
Erica's been pressed up against Stiles' side the whole night, and Stiles needs a break before he falls asleep on her. He's lucky Isaac showed up with pizza when he did, because if he hadn't Stiles would've completely missed Lydia's comment on his freckles, and God knows that would've been embarrassing.
So when the ongoing conversation fades once more in Stiles' ears and his world once again narrows down into warm points of contact along his entire left side, he decides he's gotta get up before it's too late.
He's cataloging the sparse contents of Derek's fridge when a large hand grips his —blessedly sleeved— elbow. "Derek's leftovers will go bad if you keep this up," Peter murmurs in Stiles' ear, his breath like the summer breeze on Stiles' neck, and Stiles freezes, his body a live wire. Like a trap, Peter's other hand moves into Stiles' peripheral vision and closes the fridge door, nudging Stiles around. Peter's gaze tears into Stiles, and Stiles finds himself overly aware of the werewolf's hands, one hot on his elbow, the other caging him in, wrist and arm ever so close to Stiles' head. Stiles tries to speak, but words, usually so quick on his tongue, fail him. They're too fuzzy for him to sort out.
Peter steps closer, and when Stiles blinks, eyelids dragging as if in a dream, it feels like the world's tilted. Peter's too close. "Are you alright, Stiles?" he asks, voice soft and quiet. His proximity's a drug that blankets the thoughts in Stiles' head, and all Stiles can manage is a slow, halting nod.
Peter's brow furrows, his eyes flicking to Stiles' lips before returning to his eyes. "Are you sure?" His lips curl into a hint of a wry smile. "You're quiet again."
And Stiles clenches his teeth together, frustration cutting through the warmth, because this? This isn't fair. "You barely know me," he says. "Maybe I like being quiet." He pulls his elbow out of Peter's hand and escapes Peter's hold unscathed, and it grates on him that he knows he was only able to get away because Peter let him get away. He grabs a lukewarm slice of pizza from the box on the counter and leaves the kitchen.
He almost wishes Peter hadn't let him get away. Maybe then Peter wouldn't affect him so much anymore.
He sits on the floor and leans his head on Erica's knee while they watch Night of the Lepus, a ridiculous B movie about giant killer rabbits. Peter leaves five minutes in out of sheer disgust, and while he walks past, Stiles presses closer to Erica as if to prove he's totally not desperate for another's touch. Everyone else has always believed Stiles' act. Peter should, too.
July passes before the next pack meeting. During it, Stiles initiates two game nights with Scott, and on one notably hot, muggy Saturday night, Erica drags him and Boyd out for ice cream. Scott hugs him, and Erica pokes and prods him, and Boyd nudges him, and it should be enough.
And it is enough... on those three individual days. As for the other 28 days of the month, Stiles feels... empty. Alone.
The nightmares worsen. It's not just Gerard anymore. Now it's werewolves and lizards and his mother again. It's always the worst when it's her, her nails sharp and her words sharper. Sometimes, it's like he's a scared, helpless child again, and all the work he's put into changing who he is doesn't mean a thing.
A customer startles him one day by tapping his shoulder to get his attention, and he jumps back and away, then shrinks in on himself in the same millisecond, heart racing like a fucking bomb went off. It’s… awkward. The customer, some preteen hyped up about the Hunger Games, probably thinks he’s a headcase.
None of this is normal. It isn't healthy. It isn't okay.
Stiles doesn't know what to do anymore. He's already fixed himself once. What if he can't do it again?
Children sicken and die, and they spend their second pack meeting seeking the cause. Stiles pours over every remotely relevant piece of literature and media he can find until the words on the pages and screens bleed into each other and Peter touches the back of his neck. It's such a light graze, only a whisper of fingers, but it makes Stiles' heavy head dip forward, his eyelids fluttering. Peter sets a granola bar and a glass of water down in front of him before pulling his warmsofthuman hand away to do some research of his own.
It's an African species of vampire feeding off the children, Stiles discovers three hours later. An adze, it's called, in all appearances a blood-sucking firefly until it transforms into a human when Scott catches it. Derek kills it before Scott can manage to convert it to the side of good.
Stiles goes home, sleeps for an hour, then drives to work, still wearing yesterday's clothes.
Since the adze left him no time to pack a lunch, Stiles heads to the cafe that afternoon. Niyati herself, an imposing, elderly Indian woman wearing a bindi on her forehead, greets Stiles when he comes in and asks him if he’s alright. “You look paler than usual,” she says, a smile teasing at the corner of her lips.
“It’s been a long week,” Stiles tells her. He orders his usual coffee and whatever crepe she feels like making and takes his place at the table in the back corner of the shop, opposite the door.
It’s a quiet Wednesday. Stiles’ brain is too fried to play around on his phone or read, so he people-watches instead. The crepe Niyati makes him tastes good. It’s tomato, cheese, and bacon, and the perfect pick-me-up after the night Stiles has had. It’s relaxing, just sitting, eating, and watching. His breath evens out, and he drifts.
And then Peter walks in, eyes going straight to Stiles and crinkling at the corners. Stiles sighs and glares at him. It’s more of a “why me?” glare than a “get the hell outta here” glare. Stiles doesn’t have the energy to form the latter. Peter quirks a grin before approaching Niyati, and Stiles doesn’t think a stronger glare would have made a difference.
Bearing a chocolate tart and a cup of coffee, Peter, of course, takes a seat across from Stiles like they’re not reluctant allies at best. (Perhaps not reluctant on Peter’s part, though, given the smirk on his face.) “We just spent the last two days together,” Stiles says, setting his fork down and giving Peter a look. “Haven’t you already met your monthly quota of Stiles-time?”
Leaning in, Peter grins and nudges Stiles’ calf, which Stiles absolutely does not notice, no siree. “Oh, I could never get enough of you, Stiles,” Peter purrs.
Stiles rolls his eyes so hard they threaten to fly out of his head before he digs into his food again. “You know,” he says after a moment, jabbing his fork at Peter, “I don’t know how I was ever afraid of you. You’re way too over the top.”
Leaning back, Peter pulls a book out of his messenger bag and flips it open. Without looking at Stiles, he says almost absently, “I could always murder someone else for you.”
Stiles almost spit-takes. “How is that not over the top!?” What even is this?
Peter glances up. “Well, then you’d be afraid, wouldn’t you? Not of me, of course, but of what I could do for you.” He looks down at his book.
Stiles takes a long, drawn out gulp of his coffee as he mulls this over. Finally, he asks, “Why would you want to do anything for me? Wouldn’t it be easier to threaten me as usual?”
Niyati clears her throat, sending Stiles a concerned look. He smiles at her and waves it away before looking back at Peter, who’s watching him, as entertained as ever. “There’s little I want I haven’t got,” Peter says. “I’m just putting my services out there. You never know when you’ll need a favor.” He looks down and flips a page of his book, and they lapse into silence.
Stiles peers as much as he can at the book. It looks like some sort of Nirvana biography. Huh.
Sometimes the world... drifts away from him. Or he drifts away from it. His friends speak clearly, but he can't distinguish the words. He's too far away, suspended above them all in a torpor, moving his limbs like his body's a puppet, and he's pulling the strings from somewhere above the ceiling. He should focus on what they're saying, but he can't. He doesn't want to. He doesn't want anything.
"Stiles," Derek snaps, and a burst of panic wrenches Stiles back into awareness.
"What?" he asks a little too breathlessly.
"I said, do you want sausage or pepperoni?"
"Oh, I don't care," Stiles says, focus on regulating his breathing and bringing himself back down.
This, apparently, catches Scott's attention. "You don't care?" he asks, brow adorably furrowed.
Stiles realizes his mistake. He loves pepperoni, hates sausage, and is almost always vocal about his opinions. He better make up for his distraction before Scott thinks there's something actually wrong. "Just distracted," he says. "Pepperoni, accept no substitutions.
Thankfully, Scott seems to buy it, and no one else notices, and Stiles shrinks back into the couch. He closes his eyes and lets himself doze, the murmurs of his friends, of his apparent “pack”, like a lullaby.
Something isn’t right.
He used to blame the disease. She used to blame it, too. It was easier that way.
He was young, and it had her in its grip for most of his life, a steady wear on her soul until the mother who used to read him to sleep drifted into memory. “I’m sorry,” she used to say... afterwards. “I… lost myself. I didn’t mean to.” And a day later she would do it again.
Stiles used to be sorry all the time, too. If he hadn’t talked back, she wouldn’t have had to hit him. If he hadn’t forgotten to clean his room, she wouldn’t have had to smash his toys. If he hadn’t, if he hadn’t, if he hadn’t….
His father intervened when he could, or when he realized he should, and Claudia rent words into his mind and nails into his skin. Sometimes Stiles wonders if that’s his fault, too. And whenever he realizes what he’s thinking, he digs his gnawed fingernails into his own palms because he shouldn’t think that way anymore. He knows better now. Claudia didn’t have to do the things she did. She didn’t have to take her suffering out on them.
Stiles’ father is an alcoholic, and Scott’s dad is an alcoholic. The Sheriff never hurt his kid. Raphael McCall did. So, alcoholism wasn’t the problem. It was the person. And alcoholism isn’t the same as dementia, but….
(This isn’t the time or place.)
He’s drilled this into his head so many times, masochist that he is. He wants to blame the dementia so very badly and he has to because his mother’s dead, her life snatched away far before its time. It would be selfish and cruel to be angry at her and only her. Right?
If he had known someone else with frontotemporal dementia, what would he have seen? Would they be the same as Claudia?
The world always seems to say, “probably not,” as callous and fickle as you please, and Stiles wants to scream, Whywhywhywhy—
Why is he rehashing this again? He ruminates over this every single night. He knows how this goes. Sometimes he wallows in guilt, sometimes in anger, and so what? Maybe he’d be a different person if his life had been better, if Claudia had been better, but then again, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe the Stiles he could have been wouldn’t have survived werewolves and kanimas and hunters. Maybe he’s better this way.
This isn’t right this isn’t right he has to figure out why it isn’t right—
He wakes up, and he still hates himself. Guilt and anger still choke him. It’s unusual. He usually swallows it all down, but now he can’t. It’s weird, but he can handle it. He always does.
Unfamiliar voices indicate people moving about the loft, and Stiles stays still as he tries to count and locate them. It sounds like two men, one grunting as he drags something heavy towards the front door of the loft, the other somewhere closer to the kitchen, listing... prices in a deep, guttural voice. “Thirteen thousand each for the claws, up to twenty-five thousand for the liver. But if we keep him alive we could make triple that. It’s riskier, but… tempting. What about that one?” Deep Voice asks.
A chill goes down Stiles’ spine as two cool, slim fingers touch his neck and press down on the pulse of his carotid artery. “Just a human,” a woman with a high-pitched voice says with disdain, and an unnatural, visceral helplessness wracks Stiles’ body. It makes him feel like a tiny child again, curling up in the corner and praying for it to stop.
This woman’s doing something to both his and probably the rest of the pack’s emotions. He doesn’t know if it’s just to paralyze them or if it’s to do something more, but he knows he’s had worse for better reasons, and he can handle whatever she throws at him. His old therapist would probably tell him this compartmentalizing ability is unhealthy and that it’s rooted in his belief that his feelings don’t matter, which, true, but it’s advantageous to his current situation, and that’s what really counts.
Derek’s loft is still pretty sparse and utilitarian. There aren’t any convenient paperweights he can grab and bash someone’s head in, and no one brought any weapons that Stiles knows of since their “meeting” was supposed to be a glorified movie night (although Allison probably has some knives strapped to her body somewhere, but Stiles isn’t about to grope her looking for them). There’s a small lamp on the side table. Or he could pull the drawer out and hit the creepy emotional lady with it…. He really needs to start packing his own weapons.
...Maybe he could punch her? His dad taught him how to throw a punch. He nearly broke Jackson’s nose that one time. But he’d probably end up tripping over the rug or something first.
When Sir Grunts-a-Lot drags something out of the room (a werewolf body probably, or maybe Lydia), Stiles opens his eyes ever so slightly to let the light in, and then he makes his move. He tackles the creepy lady, knocking her behind the couch, and beats her over the head with the lamp until Deep Voice leaps around the couch and aims a gun at him. Stiles —somehow— throws himself over and brings Creepy Lady down on top of him, jabbing his thumbs into her eyes. Helplessness and terror seeps into his body, and he feels so, so cold, but this isn’t his mother. This person, he can hurt.
A bullet hits the floor beside his head, sending splinters of Derek’s floor cutting into Stiles’ cheek, the gunshot making his ears ring, and this is it, he’s going to die—
Boyd vaults over the back of the couch and tackles the gunman. Erica follows and drags Creepy Lady off Stiles, and Scott and Allison stumble into view.
The fight passes in a blur, and the next thing Stiles knows, Lydia’s tugging him away from all the thrashing limbs and herding him into the kitchen, out of the way of any stray bullets or throwing daggers. It doesn’t take long for the three werewolves and Allison to dispatch the third man outside, and within minutes they’ve hauled Derek and Isaac’s shaking bodies back up to the loft.
A wave of exhaustion shudders through Stiles and he stays in the kitchen when Lydia leaves to investigate the two werewolves’ apparent catatonia. Stiles leans his head back against the back wall, his side pressed against the cupboards under the sink, and just... listens. His ears still ring from the gunshot, and it takes him a while before he can make out what they're saying in the other room. Isaac seems to have recovered, but Derek....
"Maybe we just have to wait—" Scott says.
"Not with his eyes looking like that!" says Lydia.
"Dad doesn't know anything," says Allison. "But he's on his way—"
Now Isaac cuts in, voice rough and shaking. Stiles recognizes that voice. It makes him heave himself off the floor to see what's going on. "Deaton doesn't know what it is," says Isaac. He clears his throat, and his voice gets a little firmer. "He's researching."
Stiles leans in the doorway. His body's heavy, and his gaze moves slowly as he takes in the scene in front of him. Derek lies still and prone on the couch, staring up at the ceiling with cloudy eyes. Erica and Boyd hover in front of him, Isaac pressing in close to their backs. Scott, Allison, and Lydia stand off to the side. All of them (except the vegetative Derek) look clueless.
"Call Peter," Stiles says. His voice comes out a tired monotone, and everyone but Derek turns to look.
"Peter might kill him," Scott says.
Under other circumstances, Stiles might walk forward or shake his head, but right now he's too tired to move, and far too tired to put any emphasis into saying, "If Peter wanted to kill Derek, he would've done it already."
He needs to sit down. But not here in the doorway. Not in the open.
Scott still looks doubtful.
"This is rooted in emotion," Stiles says, voice still dull. "Nobody knows Derek's emotions better than Peter. Call him." He doesn't have the energy nor the will nor the ability to argue this further, so he turns around without another word and returns to the kitchen. He sinks down into same corner again, pressing his back against the reassuring solidity of the cupboard and wall. No one can come up behind him this way, not like when he was on the couch. He'll see them coming.
Peter arrives. Stiles knows because he hears him arguing with Scott. He can't distinguish the words, but he recognizes their voices.
At some point, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac wander in, apparently glued at the hips. Erica's forehead crinkles when she looks down at him. "Stiles, are you okay?"
Act normal, he tells himself. He nods at her. "Yeah," he says, and it's a lie, but he's so distant right now that he's positive his heart doesn't skip a beat. "I'm just... resting."
"We can give you a ride home if you want," Boyd says, sounding casual as can be, like this isn't totally weird.
Stiles shrugs and shakes his head. The movement feels like it takes a second too long to start after he thinks about it. "I've got my Jeep. I just need a few more minutes." He offers them a wan smile. "Thanks, though." He wishes they’d stop looming. Maybe he should stand up.
After a couple more weak platitudes, they finally leave, Boyd's arm around Isaac's shoulders as they walk out. If Stiles was capable of feeling emotions at the moment, he might be jealous.
A moment passes, not nearly long enough, and Derek staggers into the kitchen and over to the sink, placing his body a foot away from Stiles. Stiles watches as Derek, shivering, fills a glass of water and chugs it before finally looking down at Stiles, who makes himself look back. The heaviness in Derek’s vulnerable stare makes his gut twist, and that warm, safe, distant feeling he’s been hiding in disappears into a cold, quivering disjointedness. Stiles needs to get out, to go home. He needs to be safe, and Derek, Derek who’s the personification of an open wound, isn’t safe.
Stiles heaves himself to his feet, making the proximity between them shrink exponentially, and Derek takes a step back. It’s only then that Stiles notices Peter watching them from the doorway. There are too many people in the room. “You alright?” he forces himself to ask Derek in as few words as possible.
Derek nods, and for all that they both know it’s not true, it’s more than enough for Stiles to make his exit. “Okay,” he says, and he should reach out and clasp Derek’s arm as he leaves but he can’t find the energy to do it.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” Peter says as Stiles passes him, and that rubs Stiles the wrong way.
He wants to be alone. “No thanks,” he says, pushing the front door open with force. Peter follows him anyway, and that… agitates him, like there’s something under his skin.
“I just want to make sure you make it home safely,” Peter says. “I wouldn’t want you to be caught off guard again.”
Stiles could argue, but it’s not worth the energy, not when he knows Peter will follow him anyway. But… “Fine,” Stiles says, stopping at the head of the first staircase. “But you go first.”
Peter smirks. “Worried I’ll push you down?”
And Stiles is just… not in the mood for this. He wants to curl up in his blankets in the dark alone and sleep, right now. And he doesn't want anyone behind him. He sighs and nods his head towards the stairs. “Just go.”
Peter looks him over, and Stiles stares him down, all the while feeling knotted up and squirmy inside. Thankfully, Peter seems to file whatever he's gleaned from the moment for later (because Stiles knows he isn’t just “letting it go”) instead of pestering Stiles further, and he goes.
Peter’s silence and complacency last until they reach Stiles’ Jeep. “You're not okay,” he says, and Stiles pauses with his hand on the door handle, his back to Peter.
"No one in our pack—" if they are a pack "—is okay," Stiles says, voice dull. He needs to sit. Right now. He can hear Peter's footsteps coming up behind him, and he rests his forehead against the window. He tries so hard not to close his eyes.
The air shifts when Peter comes to a stop at his shoulder, and Stiles should turn around, should look, should pay attention, but he can't. "Do you need a ride home?" Peter asks, his voice low and soft, and it makes Stiles' eyes slip closed. Peter sounds concerned, of all things, and it makes Stiles' breath deepen.
"I'm fine," Stiles breathes.
"Stiles," Peter says, and his voice is too soft, too close, too caring, and Stiles can’t—
"What do you want, Peter?" He wishes he could take the sound of defeat out of his voice.
Stiles opens his eyes and tilts his head towards Peter, who stares back avidly. Stiles is... confused. "I am literally dissociating right now," Stiles says slowly because he can admit it, alright? He can. "If you even know what means," he mutters. "I am—"
"I know what that means," Peter says, calm as can be.
Stiles doesn't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. "Great, so you realize I am one hell of a mess, right?" The words take effort, but less than before. Stiles scrutinizes Peter, whose crooked grin says more than enough. "Or maybe you already knew that," Stiles murmurs. He's not going to be Peter's damn toy. Still lethargic, but a little more engaged thanks to Peter (and isn't that a kicker), Stiles steps back to give himself room to open the door, scoffing. "You can take advantage of my vulnerabilities another day. Right now I'm going home."
Peter catches his hand on the door handle. "You saved the pack today. The last thing you are is a vulnerability."
Stiles tries to tug his hand away, but Peter holds tight, his hand a pleasant burn on Stiles' senses. Stiles feels alive where Peter touches him. "I didn't say I was a vuln—"
Peter silences him with a look and pulls away. Stiles misses the warmth already. "I'm following you home to make sure you don't fall asleep with your foot on the accelerator. And then we'll get this—" He brushes a thumb against Stiles' cheek, dividing Stiles' attention between the touch and the newfound painful, raised lump making a line through the meat of Stiles' cheek beneath Peter’s thumb. "—out of your face."
Stiles prods the hardened lump and winces, his heart racing. "What's in my face?" He fumbles for his phone.
"A splinter. A very large splinter."
Stiles opens the camera app on his phone and uses it as a mirror. And there, embedded in the top layer of skin of his cheek, is an inch-long splinter from Derek's floor, a spot of blood marking its entrance. He whimpers, a full-body shudder rippling through him. The feeling of horror that comes with seeing it is akin to seeing a ready-to-use hypodermic needle, and he has to get it out holy shit. "Okay, fine, whatever, just get this out of my face."
Stiles feels uncomfortably like a kid again as he stands in the bathroom, the small of his back pressed against the sink counter, Peter's left hand holding his face in place. He doesn't like feeling like this, like who he used to be. He much prefers the Stiles who stands up to alphas and hunters and kanimas.
Thing is, he's not that person now, but he's not the kid, either.
In this moment he's not sure who he is.
Peter nudges the splinter with the tweezers, making Stiles wince. In response, Peter's fingers tighten on his face to hold him in place, and he inches the splinter out. Stiles grits his teeth, and Peter slides the splinter the rest of the way out. He's patting Stiles' cheek with gauze to staunch the bleeding before Stiles can do it himself. "There," he murmurs.
His fingers loosen their grip, but he doesn't let go of Stiles' face while they wait. Stiles should protest, but... he'll take advantage of Peter's comfort while he can, however suspicious it might be.
"You know," Peter says, and Stiles' gut clenches because he doesn't want to have to decipher words right now. "The pack wouldn't have survived without you today."
Stiles hums noncommittally. He stares at a point on the wall right above Peter's shoulder.
"I'm only saying, you're a valuable member." He tilts Stiles' face closer and looks him head on. "You know that, don't you?"
His gaze bores into Stiles' eyes, and the easiest option for Stiles seems to be to nod his head. So he nods.
Peter's gaze flickers with something. "How often do you dissociate?"
"Why do you care?"
Peter shrugs. "Call it curiosity."
Stiles shrugs back. "It doesn't matter then."
Peter shifts his grip on Stiles face so that his palm rests on Stiles' cheek. "I've told you before that I like you, Stiles. That hasn't changed." It would be so easy to lean into his touch. "I want you on my side. I want to see what you can do." He sounds like Stiles is the most fascinating thing in the world.
Stiles inhales deeply, his body still. "I don't think I can do much now," he murmurs, voice as much a monotone as every other word that's come out of his mouth in the last few hours. He has to remind himself to blink.
Peter lifts the gauze with a satisfied hum and dabs at Stiles' face with the edge before throwing it away. "That's alright. All you need to do right now is sleep." His hand —sadly— leaves Stiles' face, only to take Stiles' elbow instead, and he steers Stiles into his bedroom. Oddly enough, he stops in Stiles' doorway instead of leading Stiles in further, and Stiles lurches as soon as he feels himself start to slip out of Peter's hold. He presses himself back into Peter's hand. "Is there anything I can do to help?" Peter asks.
He should tell Peter to leave, but... if Peter stops touching him he thinks he might float away. Stiles blinks slowly, staring at his bed before staring at Peter. "I set you on fire," he says carefully.
Peter's lips curl into a smile. "Why do you think I want you on my side?" And Stiles must stare a little too long before he responds because Peter asks again, more clearly and demanding this time, "What can I do to help?"
"Just—" Peter's tone pulls the answer out of Stiles before he can stop himself, and Stiles swallows down the ensuing shiver of vulnerability. He turns into Peter, pulling his shoulder out of Peter's hand and bowing his neck, avoiding Peter's gaze. "Just let me...," he slips unsure hands around Peter's waist and dips his face closer to Peter's neckline, "breathe." They're so close but Stiles can’t—
Peter's hands close around his hips, pulling him in, and Stiles lets his forehead fall into the crook of Peter's neck with a sigh of relief. "Let me breathe," Stiles murmurs, eyes slipping closed.
Peter stands still, for once keeping his mouth shut. His skin is warm and soft against Stiles' forehead and almost ticklish on the bridge of his nose, and the muscles of Stiles' neck relax and droop, making his head grow heavier on Peter's body. Peter's only response is to hold him closer, and Stiles' own hands clench around the werewolf's waist through his soft, thin shirt. Stiles can feel the muscle of Peter's sides move with his breath.
Peter smells like night air and barely noticeable cologne. His skin feels like heaven on Stiles' skin and his breath sends heat curling down his spine, and Stiles drowns in the quiet bliss of it. He breathes in and out, heat spreading through his skin. The only touch between them occurs between their hands on each other's sides and between Stiles' forehead and Peter's neck, but even with the three inches of space between them, Stiles feels embraced. Every scrambled bit of Stiles drains into Peter: the thoughts in his head, the anxiety in his buzzing bones, the cold shadow in his heart. It diffuses into Peter's touch and all Stiles can think is, Please, please don't stop.
And Peter doesn't stop. His hands slide up Stiles's sides and over his back, easing over his shoulder blades and leaving trails of sparking heat in their wake. A full-body shudder wracks Stiles, and he fights off a sob, pressing his face harder into Peter's neck. Peter doesn't say a word, just brings his hands to rest, one covering the nape of Stiles' neck, the other threading through Stiles' hair. Peter holds him there, his own neck bowing towards Stiles' shoulder, and the heat of his palms makes Stiles' knees tremble. Peter doesn't bridge the space between the rest of their bodies, and Stiles is grateful. He doesn't think he could handle that.
Time passes. Minutes, he thinks, just minutes, but they feel like they last forever. Peter's body heat soaks into him, and Stiles is the vessel for it, a ship so often adrift now weighted down and tethered. The house creaks like old houses are wont to do; the wind blows outside, barely audible through the closed window, and the sounds of their soft breaths mingle in the relative silence. Stiles comes back to himself slowly. His body’s heavy and warm, his thoughts alive but easy, smooth. He’s sharing a weird not-hug with Peter Hale. He should be freaked out, but he’s okay. He’s present. He’s here. He’s alive.
He opens his eyes and takes his time getting his bearings. “You’ve filled out,” he says at last, voice rough. “Y’don’t look like a half-starved mountain man anymore.”
Peter hums, and the vibrations of his voice coax a sigh out of Stiles. “Healthy eating, a gym membership, and a humble apartment… I’m a model citizen nowadays,” Peter muses.
Stiles huffs, making the skin of Peter’s throat twitch. At least Stiles isn’t the only reactive one here. He takes one last careful breath before he pulls away, meeting Peter's intent gaze for only a second. Anywhere but Peter proves a much safer place to look. "I—" he has to clear his throat. He tries again, "Thanks for the, for taking out the splinter." His face spasms a little at the memory. "And the... you know." He gestures between them. He feels the urge to apologize, but this is Peter.
Stiles knows he should be more combative, but he's too calm right now. He's far too grounded and warm. It's weird. It's nice.
"Werewolves are tactile creatures, Stiles," Peter says, a quirk to his lips. "Trust me when I say it was no hardship. In fact," he looks down, making a show of examining his fingertips before catching Stiles in his gaze again. "Should you feel the need again, I'm always available."
Stiles swallows, because he knows nothing Peter offers comes without a price. "I think I'm good, thanks. This was... good, you know, but I've got a handle on —this was just because of the psychic or whatever she was. I'm fine." Peter lifts an eyebrow, and Stiles' breath shortens. "Really. It won't happen again."
Peter's eyes flick to Stiles chest, to his heart, and Stiles looks away. But Peter doesn't bring it up. He doesn't have to, and it makes something in Stiles crumple.
Peter takes a step back, and Stiles wants to reel him in again, to ask him to stay. He doesn't.
"The offer still stands," Peter says. He reaches out and takes Stiles' limp hand. "Whenever you need it. Whenever you like." He brings Stiles' hand between them and covers it with his other. "You understand?" He rubs his thumb over Stiles' knuckles and sets the nerves of Stiles' hand ablaze.
Stiles nods wordlessly, and Peter lets him go.
"Good night, Stiles," he says, a tiny smile on his lips, and then he leaves.
Stiles stands there, his body warm and alive, swept into a trance-like state.
Once Peter's long gone, he sighs and collapses into bed like his strings have just been cut.
He sleeps well.
Peter takes his time driving home, immensely pleased with himself. Stiles has a taste for him now, and all Peter needs to do is wait.